Thursday, January 13, 2005

Juan Cole et al. - "TheThird Baath Coup?"

What is the Iraqi "insurgency" about? Here is an interesting recent analysis by the scholar of Islam Juan Cole (currently President-Elect of the Middle Eastern Studies Association), whose political commentary on his "Informed Comment" weblog is, indeed, well informed and almost always acute, whether or not one fully agrees with it.

It has long been clear that the heart of the "insurgency" is a loose collection of fascist thugs left over from the Baath regime; Islamist fanatics; Sunni irredentists unwilling to give up their historic status as the dominant minority in Iraq; and foreign jihadists. (This is all quite distinct from the off-and-on Shiite insurgency linked to Muqtada al-Sadr, whose profile is very different. But the violence and disruption in Iraq come overwhelmingly from the Sunni insurgency, and at all events the Sadrists seem to be mostly quiet and relatively marginalized for the moment.)

What is distinctive about Cole's argument here is his suggestion that the Baathist element in the insurgency outweighs all the others in importance. My impression is that this underplays the significance of the Islamists in the overall mix. But other people, including some Iraqis (and, interestingly enough, Scott Ritter), have also argued that Baathist secret-police and military networks play a crucial role in organizing and driving the Sunni insurgency.

(Some analyses by Iraqis that I've read recently--see after Cole's piece, below--have suggested that this could help explain why insurgent attacks in Iraqi Kurdistan have been minimal, aside from some very occasional atrocities. It's not enough to say that they have no support there, because they're able to carry out spectacular attacks in the Shiite south of Iraq, where they also have almost no popular support. Instead, the key factor is that Iraqi Kurdistan is the one part of the country where underground Baathist networks have been totally dismantled for a long time. Could be.)

These issues are not easy to resolve right now, even for people more knowledgeable about Iraq than I am. But the following practical conclusions that Cole draws are definitely on target. Simply put, for the US to simply abandon Iraq right now would be neither a realistic nor a morally defensible solution.

The Baath has been systematically killing members of the new political class. This is visible at the provincial level. The governors of Diyala and Baghdad provinces have recently been killed. The killing and kidnapping of members of the provincial governing councils go virtually unremarked in the US press but are legion. A female member of the Salahuddin GC was kidnapped and killed recently. The police chiefs of many cities have been killed or kidnapped, or members of their family have, such that many more have just resigned, often along with dozens of their men. The US is powerless to stop this campaign of assassination.

And this is my problem with the idea of just having the US suddenly withdraw its military from Iraq. What is to stop the neo-Baath from just killing Grand Ayatollah Sistani, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Ibrahim Jaafari, Iyad Allawi (who is rumored not to sleep in the same bed twice), etc., all the members of the provincial councils and the new parliament, and then making a military coup that brings the party and its Sunni patronage networks back to power?

I think this coup would look more like the failed 1963 effort than like 1968, and has the potential to roil the country and the region for decades. The tanks and helicopter gunships and chemical weapons that the Sunni Arab minority regime used to put down the other groups are gone, and it is not clear that car bombs, Kalashnikovs and sniping could substitute for them. They can probably take the Green Zone and the television stations if the US abruptly withdraws, but could they really put down the South effectively again?

For this reason, I fear I think the US is stuck in Iraq. Sistani clearly fears a Sunni Arab coup, as well, and this is one reason he has not acted forcefully to end the military occupation, which he deeply dislikes.

--Jeff Weintraub

======================

Juan Cole ("Informed Comment")
January 13, 2005

The Third Baath Coup?

If, as I have argued, the Baathists along with some Salafi (Sunni fundamentalist) allies are behind the guerrilla war, what do they want? They want to drive the Americans out of Iraq and make a third Baath coup, putting the Shiite genie back in its bottle and restoring Sunni Arab primacy.

A third Baath coup is no more inherently implausible than the first two. The Baathists probably have access to some 250,000 tons of munitions which are still missing. They know how to use them, and have been the managerial class, and many are Iran-Iraq War and Gulf War veterans with substantial military experience.

As long-time readers know, I have long held a position similar to that enunciated by former weapons inspector Scott Ritter's assessment that the lion's share of violence in Iraq is the work of Baathist military intelligence and military gone underground, and that the tendency to blame everything on Zarqawi and a handful of foreigners is a propaganda move that suits both the Baath mukhabarat and the Bush administration. AP correspondent in Baghdad, Borzou Daragahi, makes much the same argument.

Only 6 percent of the fighters captured at Fallujah were foreigners, and Fallujah anyway had long had a high foreign-born population, being a frontier and desert port. By Baath I don't necessarily mean committed ideological Baathists, but the party was how they were formed politically, along with networks of clientelage based in the Sunni Arab heartland.

The Baath has been systematically killing members of the new political class. This is visible at the provincial level. The governors of Diyala and Baghdad provinces have recently been killed. The killing and kidnapping of members of the provincial governing councils go virtually unremarked in the US press but are legion. A female member of the Salahuddin GC was kidnapped and killed recently. The police chiefs of many cities have been killed or kidnapped, or members of their family have, such that many more have just resigned, often along with dozens of their men. The US is powerless to stop this campaign of assassination.

And this is my problem with the idea of just having the US suddenly withdraw its military from Iraq. What is to stop the neo-Baath from just killing Grand Ayatollah Sistani, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Ibrahim Jaafari, Iyad Allawi (who is rumored not to sleep in the same bed twice), etc., all the members of the provincial councils and the new parliament, and then making a military coup that brings the party and its Sunni patronage networks back to power?

I think this coup would look more like the failed 1963 effort than like 1968, and has the potential to roil the country and the region for decades. The tanks and helicopter gunships and chemical weapons that the Sunni Arab minority regime used to put down the other groups are gone, and it is not clear that car bombs, Kalashnikovs and sniping could substitute for them. They can probably take the Green Zone and the television stations if the US abruptly withdraws, but could they really put down the South effectively again?

For this reason, I fear I think the US is stuck in Iraq. Sistani clearly fears a Sunni Arab coup, as well, and this is one reason he has not acted forcefully to end the military occupation, which he deeply dislikes.

Is the Neo-Baath Coup scenario one that the US could live with?

posted by Juan @ 1/13/2005 06:19:23 AM


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http://www.iprospect.org.uk/na19nov.html
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Iraqi Prospect Organization
November 19, 2004

News Analysis

By Yasser Alaskary & Sama Hadad
November 19, 2004

Solving Iraq's Security Riddle

There is growing evidence that the core of the insurgency is almost purely Baathist:

1. The Fallujah experience

Prior to the operation in Fallujah, it was generally believed that the majority of the insurgent leadership were foreign Arab Salafi extremists. However, this is now in question. Arab Salafi extremists, like those associated with the militant Abo Musab Al-Zarqawi, explicitly seek out 'martyrdom' as their victory. On the other hand, Baathists have no interest in being killed and every interest in defeating the new Iraqi government and wearing out the US-led coalition into withdrawal. The sheer ease with which US and Iraqi forces overran Fallujah indicates that most insurgents had left the city. Such a move is not characteristic of Salafi extremists who would have relished a final battle against their perceived enemy. It is, however, characteristic of a Baathist-led insurgency that does not want to face the US at its time of choosing but would rather slip away and attack at a time of their choosing.

2. Baathists were not defeated

Policy makers would do well to remember that whilst the Baathist regime lost the war, it was never defeated. The core of the Baath Party, who made up the dozens of security organizations and local networks trusted by Saddam Hussein, were concentrated in central Iraq. While Saddam's regime threw thousands of foot-soldiers to the south to slow down the advancement of the coalition, the Baathists never fought once the coalition reached central Iraq. In the city of Ramadi, a bastion for the Baath Party, not a single bullet was fired - the Baathists simply melted away amongst the civilian population. The failure of the coalition governments to recognize this danger has allowed these Baathists to lead the insurgency: planning, organizing, and coordinating terrorist activity while using the same 'Islamic' propaganda as Saddam did to lure in militants to carry out the suicide bombings and their other dirty work.

3. The Kurdish phenomenon

Furthermore, every Iraqi city has suffered numerous suicide bombings, explosions and terrorist acts, except for those located in the former Kurdish safe-haven. A foreign terrorist does not have any preference as to where he carries out his attack as he is foreign to all regions of Iraq - so why then is there such a geographic phenomenon? Some argue that this is because the foreign terrorists cannot find any sanctuary in the former safe-haven region, but this is a flawed assumption. There are Salafi Kurdish groups based in these regions and they would be more than willing to provide automatic shelter and help to their ideological brothers. In contrast, external Arab terrorist are very unlikely to find any sanctuary in many Shia cities yet such cities have not been spared from insurgent activity. Therefore, the presumption that the insurgency is at its core made up of foreign Arab Salafi extremists cannot explain the discrepancy between the former Kurdish safe-haven and the rest of Iraq. However, this phenomenon can be easily explained if we assume the insurgency is Baathist at its core. The Baath regime of Saddam have been excluded from the Kurdish safe-haven since 1991, they no longer have a working knowledge of the area, they lack the Baath network which exists in the rest of Iraq, and are therefore unable to carry out any operations in this region.

Policy Strategy

With the evidence pointing to a Baathist-led insurgency, most likely comprising of former members of Saddam's security services and local Baathist leaders concentrated in what is called the Sunni triangle (which would be more appropriately named the Baathist triangle), there must be a clear strategy to finally defeat the Baathists if security is to be restored. This can be done by:

  1. Stopping the process of re-Baathification. Why it should come as a surprise that the new Iraqi security forces continue to be 'infiltrated' when Baathists are actively recruited and reinstated in top-level positions is staggering. Building Iraq's security around the people who wish to destroy it is sheer stupidity and dangerously incompetent. Furthermore, this process has only served to alienate those who suffered under the Baath regime, especially amongst the Shia and Kurds, and has done nothing to pacify or appease non-Baathist Sunnis.
  2. Actively rounding up any 'former' Baathists associated with Saddam's security forces and local Baathist ring-leaders. For the first few months after the war, when most Baathists had fled their neighbourhoods and were in hiding, the security situation was remarkably calm. When they found they were not being hunted, they grew in confidence and began to launch attacks. There has been a sustained upsurge in terrorist activity since then, dramatically increasing after re-Baathification was launched in the summer. We should have them on the run, not giving them the freedom and time to plan and organize more terror. They should be living in fear of being arrested, not inflicting fear on the people of Iraq.
  3. Reinvigorate the process of de-Baathification. The Baath Party has not been defeated by the war as many of its key members are still in positions of power, helping their 'comrades' on the outside (see the IPO's November 1, 2004 analysis for examples of this).

Before an enemy can be defeated, it must be identified. The US-led coalition and the Interim Iraqi Government can continue to convince themselves that the insurgency is not Baathist at its core; they can continue with the failed process of re-Baathification. However, the Fallujah phenomenon will be repeated again and again and Iraq's security will spiral even more out of control and ultimately innocent Iraqis will pay the price.

=====================

openDemocracy
November 18, 2004

Fallujah’s lesson for Iraq
Sama Hadad
18 - 11 - 2004



The United States-led assault on Fallujah signals the political failure of the attempt to stabilise Iraq by re-empowering supporters of Saddam’s Ba’ath party and the Sunni elite it represents, says Sama Hadad.

At an enormous human and physical cost, American and new Iraqi forces are in almost complete control of the insurgent stronghold city of Fallujah. But this operation represents also the political failure of the strategy adopted by the United States in Iraq in recent months: “re-Ba’athification”.

After the fall of Saddam in April 2003, the interim Iraqi prime minister Iyad Allawi and his supporters in Washington fiercely opposed de-Ba’athification (the systematic removal of Saddam’s Ba’ath party supporters from the higher reaches of the state and military). The logic was plain: Allawi’s Iraqi National Accord draws its support from former Ba’athists and Iraq’s Sunni elite.

A wrong turning

In April 2004, a year after regime change, mounting international pressure over civilian casualties during the United States’s military operations around Fallujah led Washington to abandon the de-Ba’athification policy it had implemented after the overthrow of Saddam. Instead, the then-governing body, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), created a “Fallujah Brigade” led by former Ba’athists with military experience of Saddam’s wars against his own people.

This signaled a wave of further appointments of high-ranking Ba’athists to top security service and government posts – just as Iyad Allawi had been advocating. Their thinking was that appointing former Sunni elite and Ba’athists to positions of power would kill two birds with one stone: making use of their “expertise” as well as appeasing the Sunni population.

Jasim Muhammed Salih was appointed commander of the Fallujah Brigade, but mounting opposition over his past role as chief of staff of a Republican Guard brigade who participated in the bloody suppression of the 1991 Shi’a uprising led to his removal only days later. The brigade command was then handed to a former Saddam intelligence officer, Mohammed Abdul Latif. As insurgency activity unsurprisingly soared once more in Fallujah, coalition forces eventually found the Fallujah Brigade to be effectively working alongside them by day and planning and executing insurgency activity by night. In September 2004, the Fallujah Brigade was quietly disbanded.

A dangerous game

The saga of the Fallujah Brigade symbolises the incompetence as well as the injustice of “re-Baathification”, and highlights the dangerous repercussions of this policy. Allawi’s aggressive restoration of Ba’ath elements to the government and security services has paved the way for people like Amer al-Hashimi to be appointed chief of staff of Iraq’s new army.

Al-Hashimi, a former major-general in Saddam’s army (and Salafist), was fired in August after being exposed for supplying Salafi insurgents with intelligence and promoting them to high ranks in the new Iraqi army. Al-Hashimi’s replacement was Mohammed Abdul-Qadr, former Ba’athist governor of Mosul and deputy chief of staff under Saddam; but even more worrying is that al-Hashimi himself was later appointed an advisor to the ministry of defence.

Allawi’s policy was reflected also in the appointment of Talib al-Lahibi as commander of the new Iraqi National Guard for the province of Diyala. Al-Lahibi, a former Saddam officer, was arrested in September when it came to light he was leading – rather than attempting to suppress – the insurgency in the province.

But Allawi’s gravest re-Ba’athification blunder was his appointment of Yousef Khalaf Mahmood as head of security for the Iraqi interim cabinet. Mahmood was arrested at the end of October after the discovery that he was working with the insurgents and had supplied them with the names and addresses of every government official and ministerial member of staff – six of whom (including family members) have been murdered in their homes. This blunder will keep insurgents busy for months to come.

It is clear that, under re-Ba’athification, the very people Iraq is relying upon for its rebuilding and democratisation are now sitting targets.

The reinstatement of members of the Sunni elite and former Ba’athists ensures that leadership of the new Iraqi security forces is once again Sunni-dominated, as it had been for four decades under Saddam. The policy is exacerbating Iraq’s insecurity – and at several levels: in just one Iraqi unit in the latest Fallujah operation, 100 Sunni soldiers deserted their posts on the way to the city.

Most commentators and political advisors now correctly identify the need for a political solution to partner the Fallujah military operation. But in advocating the same policy that was adopted seven months ago – increased Sunni and “clean” Ba’athist representation in order to propitiate the Sunni population – is misconceived, as this will only guarantee continued infiltrations, desertions, and insurgency.

Allawi’s policy of re-Ba’athification and Sunni dominance is dangerous for Iraq’s future. The reality on the ground makes a change of plan essential. De-Ba’athification coupled with Shi’a leadership of the new security forces is the only long-term policy that makes possible both a defeat of the insurgency and Iraq’s movement towards democracy.

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